Learning from your success is great – but learning from your mistakes? Even better.
Public relations is such a big field, it’s easy to get lost and forget about the all-important basic techniques will get you ahead of the game. Luckily for our university and business school partners, they’ve got us to point out when and where they can be the best version of themselves!
We’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now – and as PR consultants, because we work both externally but also in conjugation to universities, we all too often see the elements and techniques in PR that are overlooked by other higher education institutions within the industry.
Sitting down as a team, we’ve identified three key themes and techniques that are all too often overlooked….
1. Don’t be slow to jump on the news agenda!
For Kate Mowbray, the PR technique universities should invest more effort in is keeping content relevant to current affairs; being able to pitch stories that are relevant to the media landscape is absolutely key.
“If it’s relevant, then you’re going to have a higher chance of being picked up. Unfortunately, the news agenda is often overlooked in favour of sticking to a content calendar or promoting content upon its immediate release, even if it’s just not the right time.”
"Yes! The press releases, articles, and expert opinions that are valued the most are those that correspond with what is happening in the news,” agrees Olivia Nieberg, “this was evident during the pandemic when we did a lot of work with experts who could comment on the virus, the lockdown, amongst other things!”
“And the same goes for social media – it needs constant growth and attention. Keeping on top of media trends is so crucial, as it is constantly evolving,” says Megan-Rose Vince, our Social Media Executive. “It is a blessing that people can like, comment on, and share content, which can help spread messages and increase brand awareness.”
This is not to suggest that you have to create new content every day to match the headlines – that’s would not be an efficient or realistic use of your time. Instead mix and match your content to what’s going on in the world; adapt it to make it relevant.
“All too often universities accidentally look past the ultimately quotable data/statistics derived from their research, instead focusing on less palatable findings,” underlines Jonny Stone. Got a statistic from a piece research you did 10 years ago, but relevant for a trending media topic today? Get it out there!
“Think about the average reader. What will catch their eye? A clear, quantifiable statistic mustn’t be overlooked.”
2. Pitch the good pitch
Some communications professionals know they can improve their pitches – how to structure one and who to send it to are common challenges that are holding back great ideas from catching on.
“We all want to feature in national publications such as the Times or The Independent, or in widely-read publications such as BBC and the Financial Times, but the topic of a pitch or op-ed might be better suited or more relevant to a trade outlet with a smaller, more targeted readership,” emphasises Kyle Grizzell.
“People shouldn’t forget that trade publications can be just as effective as top tier for your institutions. Yes, top tier publications have millions of readers, but in many cases only a small percentage of this readership will be your target audience,” continues Katie Hurley. “But when you target a trade publication – often their entire audience, which is in the thousands, will be relevant!”
“Exactly - sometimes it's more important to consider the worth of the targeted audience rather than the quantity of readers," adds Kyle.
“It’s not just who you’re pitching to, but how you’re pitching,” highlights Stephanie Mullins. “Three pages of A4 is too long for a pitch, especially if it has too much academic jargon, failing to be pithy enough to capture interest".
Stephanie adds that taking the time to do it in the first place can be a barrier. "In-house communications and PR professionals often tell me that they are overstretched - and they are! This can mean that there's simply not enough time for them to utilise effective but time-consuming PR techniques like pitching to journalists individually."
Overall, you’ve got to make sure your pitches are tailored to the journalist, and targeting the right publication that will reach your target audience. Struggling with this in particular? We’ve got more help for you, don’t worry!
3. Utilising the right people
“Don’t risk putting forward the most senior person within an institution rather than the person whose expertise best fits a journalist's request,” notes Kerry Ruffle, “don’t leverage faculty titles with journalists instead of the ability to discuss the topic in question.”
When presented with a media opportunity, be sure to highlight the best person for the piece – don’t automatically go for the Dean or highest-ranking professor.
“These approaches are sure-fire ways to either receive no response, or even get blacklisted,” Kerry says. “Before engaging, take a moment to put yourself in the journalist's shoes and consider what they truly need, and then who amongst their faculty and staff could provide the best assistance.”
“Like the careers team,” continues Peter Remon, “the careers teams are rarely used for media purposes, but the whole reason people usually study either at business school or university is to boost their career, whether it be to move up in their current organisation, become an entrepreneur or move company, industry or location. Careers teams can be used to talk directly to prospective students through the media on what they can achieve post studies.”
“Precisely, they have a wide variety of talented staff and faculty at their disposal, why not use them all to their advantage?!” Kerry adds.
"Also, I think schools and universities shouldn’t overlook how important it can be to give staff and faculty direction when responding to journalists’ questions, especially those without media experience,” observes Jamie Hose.
“For example, if a journalist sends over six questions with a short deadline, a member of faculty sometimes only feels able to answer one or two – but the answers they give could be several paragraphs long. Providing faculty with greater clarity could easily result in them providing six short and sharp answers, touching on more points, and ultimately being more likely to have their comments included in an article."
Faculty and staff can need training; talking to media is not just like talking to your own communications team. Our media training provides detailed visits to your university, to prepare your members of faculty on how to approach the press.
So – there you have it, straight from our team!
These all-important techniques that are so often overlooked undoubtedly impact your PR strategy. But understanding your target audience, your target outlet and even your target journalists whilst implementing these aforementioned steps will help you reach your strategic goals.
Having studied at top institutions including Sciences Po, City University of Hong Kong, Oxford Brookes University, KIMEP University and having completed his Masters at the University of St Andrews, Alex’s insider knowledge means that he genuinely understands the inner workings of universities and higher education institutions. Alex has won awards for his academic writing and is fluent in both English and French, and proficient in Spanish.